Tag Archives: healing

9/11/2021 ~ Today my grief is compounded

Will I ever feel any different on this somber and devastating anniversary?

20 Years ago we lived in Maryland. September 11 started off, as any other day did, with us waking up around 6 AM and getting the day going with our regular routines. Andrew was 5 and Alec 3. At this age running around, laughing and playing outside were their favorite “routines”. Andrew was in PM Kindergarten so that meant we had all morning to play around then get some lunch before heading up to school. Everything was normal. At around 8 AM we took our dog, Cooper, for a walk around the neighborhood and the only thing I actually remember from that walk is that the sky was the most perfect blue and there was not a single cloud to be seen as far as the eye could see. It truly was a stunning September morning.

Back inside, I had the today show on. Matt and Katie were on and I don’t even remember what they were talking about until I heard them say that one of the twin towers had some type of explosion and possibly an airplane accidentally flew into it. I came over to watch and I remember thinking “is this really happening or is this a clip from an upcoming movie?” It was not making any sense that a plane would accidentally fly into a gigantic building when suddenly the second plane hit. I immediately called my dad and told him to bring my grandmother over and that they should plan to stay here for a while if not overnight. I immediately felt that if this was possibly the beginning of a war in the US and I was not going to be separated from the people I love most. I started calling my friends to check in on everyone and our phone was ringing off the hook as well. I instantly decided that Andrew was not going to school today. Luckily, they called and school had been cancelled and kids were going home early. The world changed forever that day. 

Here is the beauty of having young kids around during a tragedy: They don’t give you much time to wallow in fear, sadness, uncertainty etc… Kids need to keep going. Their innocence protects them and the need for the basics doesn’t stop because there is an emergency. Don’t get me wrong, they knew something was wrong. Andrew asked a lot of questions and the answers were not easy to find. What do you say? What don’t you say? The meandering is tricky. You know they need some level of understanding because they sense that things are off and lying doesn’t do anyone any good.

We spent that day huddled up at home playing with Cooper out on the deck, playing indoors, making meals and talking. We were together. 

We were together.

(Update. As I wrote this yesterday I had to stop. My grief was overwhelming and I couldn’t write or do much of anything else.) I took my paddleboard and paddled out to Sarasota Bay and watched. I watched birds eating, fish eating, people going out on their boats, some were fishing other people paddleboarding or kayaking. There weren’t a lot of people out and about. There were no “party” boats. It was overcast and quiet. I came home and don’t remember much of the rest of the day. I didn’t watch the news or look on social media. Everything is different now. People I used to be close with I no longer speak to and some I didn’t feel close to for a long time I’m close with again. Tragedies change people. After 9/11 the world changed. I still believe that the tragedy of 9/11 has been used to change the hearts of many Americans. The angry and fearful people, the insecure people, the ignorant people and others have been used by those who stand to make a lot of money by creating conflict. Too many people have been misinformed and manipulated to “choose one side” and not to deviate from that side no matter what. Twenty years later we seem to be more divided than ever and all I can do is pay attention to my community and try to do a little bit of good every day and help where I can because I believe that it’s a lot of the little things we do that add up to gigantic things that make real and lasting impacts but that’s a story for another day.

9/11 is a National Day of Reflection (IMO). It is a somber day and I spend it quietly now. Remembering when “we were together”. I miss my innocence. On 9/11 it’s compounded. Grief never goes away. Whenever anyone says to you to “get over it” with regards to grieving just ask them if they will ever forget 9/11. Who has “gotten over” that day?

I miss you, Andrew. We were together. not just on 9/11. Always. I thought of what you and Alec would have done if the three of us were together and I din’t have to think long to know. So I went out and did what we would have done if we were all together: I picked up a bunch of trash from the Bay and Rick tried to help a bird out of a jam. He almost got close enough to grab him. He had a fishing hook stuck on the back of his head but it wasn’t in deep and didn’t impede his ability to fly or eat so when he flew away we didn’t worry too much. We just know that it should be removed but trying to catch a wild bird is not easy. When they fly off you just have to let them go and accept that you can’t fix everything. Try anyway. 

I remember you and how you cared so much about people, animals and our earth and you felt bad about mistreating things so even though you weren’t perfect you tried to make things better and you weren’t always succesful but you wouldn’t give up. Ever. You were EXTRA and knowing you could fail, you tried anyway. We all should. 

Letters in a journey of healing

I remember reading years ago in our local newspaper about an incident that happened in our community in which an infant died and the young father ended up in prison for his baby’s death. All of it just broke my heart . It was such a sad and troubling event that I made sure to speak about it with my boys. I had no clue my boys would even know the young man involved but, as it turns out, they did because they had all gone to the same high school together. I remember how Andrew rushed home after I mentioned reading about it and expressed my concern and worry. He had already known and tried to explain the circumstances as best as he could without passing judgement and imploring me to try to reserve any negative judgement because as he said “Mom. Don’t. We don’t know what really happened and right now two families are hurting enough. We should find a way to be helpful not hurtful.”
He was correct.
Two families are hurting enough
.
Yes.
Unimaginable pain.
Be kind with your words.
I remember how Andrew had discussed what he knew about the young man and insisted that we not hold judgement without knowing the true character of this, or any, person. Impossible to disagree with that point. I love him for being that way. He is always that way. Andrew’s soul is still that way and I can feel him around me reminding me to look beyond what I can see. I try. He knew, as we all did, that the young man was going to go to prison and that two families were hurting enough. It truly was a sad time in our home.

Years passed. Life happened. We moved. Andrew died.

I died a lot with him. Those first 8 to 12 months after he died were simply endless, joyless, painful, numb, dark and lonely days. A mother who has known the joy of the birth of a child and has experienced the tenderness of those first tears, the smell of their newborn skin, putting on their little tiny clothes and smelling the baby shampoo and talc on their soft warm skin should never have to be torn to shreds over the memory of how precious that time was. Most mothers may have those memories as building components to their children’s future and see hope and promise in them and that’s the way it should be but to be a mother and be torn to shreds by those memories knowing that those hopes and promises will never be is unnatural. It doesn’t matter at what age your child dies. It’s the same. It’s not supposed to be that way. It’s unnatural and cruel and it shreds your soul forever. Yet somehow, in a twisted game of confusion and despair, life does go on after your child dies. We keep breathing, the days pass and at first we can’t breathe and the tears are as heavy as the world’s oceans with waves of despair crashing on you relentlessly and seemingly without end. They carry a senseless tide with them as well which at first is maddening and you feel like you would rather die than live like a shipwrecked adventurer who was left to survive in the ocean with nothing but a teaspoon in your hand. Nothing makes sense at first. But as the days and months pass the Mad Hatter ocean begins to calm down and the tide of tears subsides a tiny bit. Months pass and somehow, if we allow the universe to speak to us and try to understand it’s message, we begin to try and find purpose again and eventually the days begin to shine a little light on our faces and then one day there it is: we crack a little smile as Hope sneaks her way in to save you .

Andrew was 22 when he died. He was a young adult living his young adult life and although I have always been very close with both Andrew and Alec I do not pretend to know every little detail of their daily lives and that is the way it should be.

Things weren’t always like that however. I fondly remember going through every little corner and crevice of my boy’s rooms up until they were about 13. Putting clothes away, straightening up dressers, closets and cleaning under the beds and feeling angry and amused simultaneously when I would find GoGurt wrappers or an empty packet of CheezIts from days ago and countless other surprise science experiments. But as kids grow they begin to take on a life of their own and you give them the space they need to spread their wings with the hope that maybe one or two of the pep talks you’ve given them throughout the years has settled in their souls and will help them achieve a bright and purposeful future. I’d tell them things like “Happiness comes from within and behaving kindly towards others is the seed of the happiness plant that we call a heart. Bitterness works the same way. Your actions determine which one will grow. You can choose to grow a beautiful tree which keeps producing endless fruit or a thorny bush with nothing but falling leaves year after year. It’s all up to us and our choices.” hoping that my words and actions would be followed by kind actions on their part and I would see two beautiful and strong trees producing endless fruit well into my old age. By the ages of 22 and 20 they were both starting to look like 2 beautiful and strong trees.

And then there’s life and death. You don’t plan for your children to die before you. Why would you? It’s unthinkable. It’s unnatural. It’s insane. You do not go there. Ever. There is absolutely no sane or logical reason to be prepared for the part of having to go through your child’s things after they die and how this part, of all the parts, is the time and place where your soul is shattered beyond repair. It is, by far, the worst part. It’s finding the old movie stubs, the lists of things to do that now will never get done, the parking tickets you paid and were upset about and now you’re ready to pay for tickets every day without complaint if you could just have him back. It’s the card you sent him years ago that he still carries in his backpack everywhere he goes because it meant everything to him and you didn’t know until that very second. It’s the socks that are mismatched but clean and put away that will not be worn again and it’s their scent on everything they own. Their scent is on everything and the desire to attach that to their bodies knowing you never will again is what shatters you. Going through all the things that defined him as a physical being here on earth is, by far, the hardest thing to do.
It took me days to go through his things.
Endless, sorrowful and soul shattering days.

I remember going through his desk when I found some letters from this young man who by now had been in prison for a number of years. At the time I was too shattered to even think about that for too long but I remember crying because I knew when I saw them that these letters were part of the fruit from Andrew’s tree and I had enough sense to put them in the “must keep section” of his belongings. I had no idea that Andrew was regularly writing to this young man in prison but I knew how special that was and I cried for a long time about it.

But then the ocean of grief took hold of me and I don’t remember much of what happened the following year.

I guess it did take about a year for me to get back to some of the boxes I had marked “important: keep” and when I did, I found the letters. I cried and cried again. I thought about all that had happened years ago and Andrew’s sincere concern for this young man. His care was so sincere. His sadness so thick. I wanted to reach out to this young man to let him know that he meant a lot to Andrew. I needed to let him know how important it was to Andrew to stay in touch with him. I wrote him a letter letting him know that as Andrew’s mom, knowing how my son felt about him and knowing how important these types of things were to my son, I will be here for him as well should he ever want to correspond. And then I waited. And he wrote back. And the tree is growing.

I’ve bought a book of stamps.

I can hear Andrew saying, “Mama! You’re the mama.” and he’d pat my head the way he always did followed by his goofy laugh.

Oh, Andrew…my first baby
“Oh, mama my second mama” …and we’d both laugh.

I remember Cinnabons and I remember love

“When all is said and done I’d never count the cost. It’s worth all that’s lost. Just to see you smile”

Just to See You Smile performed by Tim McGraw

Every time I hear that song I cry. Not because of what he’s actually singing about but because of how this simple line in the song reminds me of you and Alec and a few of the simple things that brought you both such joy and how I would give anything just to see you smile like that again.

I can’t find a picture of us ever eating a cinnabon but I know we did. Hundreds of times. They sold them at the mall. The one in Gaithersburg. Lakeforest Mall which no longer exists. Funny how things change so much that you cry because it’s really not funny at all. The Cinnabon was downstairs near Sears or JC Penney. That part I can’t remember exactly but I remember the times we had there. Neither one of you would ever have known this because I would never have told you but we really couldn’t afford those Cinnabons yet your delight eating them was so simple and genuine that if it meant that I had to work an extra hour a day just to see you smile from eating a Cinnabon I would have worked as long as it took to earn that extra money for those Cinnabons on the regular. Just to see those beautiful smiles.

When you were little you’d both just ask for them not thinking one little bit about it and I would get us 3. One for each of us and we’d sit and eat right there at the mall. You and Alec would have just been done running around that play area in the center of the mall. You’d be almost sweaty. Grinning and ready to go on to the next adventure. But first: Cinnabon. But you, Andrew, loved them more than either Alec or me and as a teenager you understood that it wasn’t that easy to just “get something” and your eyes would always wander towards any place that sold Cinnabons. At the airport on our travels, sometimes gas stations as we drove down 95 to Florida, random places we’d find ourselves in or if we ever went to a mall anywhere you’d see them and you’d be shy about it but I knew. I’d get you your Cinnabon and you’d smile that smile and say “Oh mama. You’re the mama” and you’d pat my head the way you always did. I just wish that I could stay there in those times. Forever. Just to see you smile.

Your little 5 year old smile, Andrew. I can’t believe how clearly I can see your 5 year old face. Your hair was soft and wavy. Your little teeth were perfect and your smile was like a flash of beautiful little white miniature chiclets. Your big brown eyes full of sparkle, spirit, mischievous adventure, a little sadness and a lot of kindness. Those eyes never changed. I can see you clear as if you were right here with me this very second. Fork in hand eating that Cinnabon. Smiling and smelling of that sweet Cinnamon and frosting mixed in with that dewey boy sweat. Delighted with the world.

Maybe I always knew this was a fleeting moment and I’m glad I “wasted” all that money on those Cinnabons. Best money I ever spent. I’d do it all over again. Just to see you smile.

“I can’t forget the way you looked at me. Just to see you smile. I’d do anything…”

….Just to see you smile

…The Piano Man

“It’s a pretty good crowd for a Saturday
And the manager gives me a smile
‘Cause he knows that it’s me they’ve been comin’ to see
To forget about life for a while
And the piano, it sounds like a carnival
And the microphone smells like a beer
And they sit at the bar and put bread in my jar
And say, “Man, what are you doin’ here?”


~ Billy Joel

There are no coincidences. Ever.

How did Nate, a guy who I had never previously met and had only known Andrew for a short while before he died, know that the Piano Man was the perfect song for the video he made for Andrew’s celebration of life? He didn’t. He didn’t know how that song was interwoven into the fabric of my life since high school and how I had told my boys about the way it changed my life because my 11th grade english teacher used it in our class to teach us about similies, hyperboles and metaphors but what I got out of it was that life can be interpreted beautifully through lyrics and music. Nate knew nothing of this. He felt it. Because the universe leaves nothing up to a mere coincidence. Not one single damn thing. Not birth. Not death. Not a second of the journey in between.

I’ll admit it. At first when I heard the song choice Nate had made for Andrew’s video I was upset. Mad upset. Not sad upset. Why The Piano Man, Nate?! I put the thought away. I couldn’t handle the reality of it just yet. I spent the next year and a half avoiding the thought, emotions, message, everything…and every time I heard it come on the radio…switch. Immediately. Nope. Not yet. I’ll let you know when I’m ready.

I’m ready.

Here’s the deal. It took me a year and a half from the day Andrew died to admit that, yes, yup…Andrew was the Piano Man. It’s true.

I miss you, Andrew. The day you were born my hospital room filled up with people. All your aunts and uncles, cousins, your grandparents, great-grandmother, my friends and it seems as though you were the talk of the floor because random nurses would come in to “see this baby we keep hearing about!”.

Looking back, that was your spirit. You attracted and welcomed everyone into your life regardless of anything that others may have perceived as “unsavory” or “negative”. It was incredible and I’m sure frustrating to your brother, Alec. Don’t get me wrong, Alec is an introvert by nature so it’s not the attention you got that frustrated him. He was frustrated by your nonstop talking and activity level! But Alec couldn’t be without you and he really did become the voice to so much of your joking around that you two became quite the pair. You got Andrew AND Alec. Always. It worked out beautifully. What a pair. What a blast.

As you got older and the two of you went separate ways for your studies I saw it even clearer. You would come home from any class you took or job you had and you would tell me stories of the people you met or have become friends with. You never judged. You were truthful but without judgement. You always found a way to see the good in others. It was you they were coming to see. It was you.

Did I ever tell you about “foreshadowing”? I learned about that in college in a film class. I probably did tell you. Foreshadowing is a technique used in movies where the director gives you a clue in the beginning, or a chapter, of the film as to what will happen but it’s not meant to be understood. It’s meant to create an expectation and in the end, as you look back on the movie, you will be able to say “oh yeah! I get it”.

Foreshadowing is not just a thing used in films. It’s everywhere and the universe always prepares us for the ending. We just don’t know it until later.

I heard the Piano Man in 11th grade. That song touched me in ways I’ve never been able to express to anyone properly. It told me everything about you. I just didn’t know it was going to be you. Oh Andrew…it was you.

“Son, can you play me a memory
I’m not really sure how it goes
But it’s sad and it’s sweet and I knew it complete
When I wore a younger man’s clothes”

I found Nate’s number the other day and finally asked him why he chose the Piano Man. This was part of his response:

“When I listen to it –the piano man is this guy who is helping to bring some joy and happiness around to other people” he went on to say, “When I met Andrew even though it was only for a little bit he was super friendly and I kind of just got the feeling that he was someone who touched a lot of lives”

He did. He still does. I still get messages from his friends telling me how thinking about what Andrew would have said or let them talk about with him has helped them going through something difficult at the moment…and it’s him who they’re coming to see….still. And he’s there for them. As usual.

“Sing us a song, you’re the piano man
Sing us a song tonight
Well, we’re all in the mood for a melody
And you’ve got us feelin’ alright”

I won’t change the station anymore when that song comes on. I’ll cry and let the emotions carry me towards you. My first baby. (My second mama)

Sing us a song you’re the piano man….
Be Prepared

The Visit by Wileyna

We lived on Alderleaf Dr in a little neighborhood that was magical.

There weren’t that many families there with kids when we first moved in around 1994 but neighborhoods turn over and by the time both my boys were born we started to see that other families were also having kids. Needless to say, by the time Andrew and Alec were 5 and 3 they had a seemingly endless stream of built in playmates for their daily adventures. Our neighbors across the street, Steve and Nancy who became dear friends, ended up having 3 kids who added so much laughter and screaming to our little magical neighborhood. Their oldest son, John, was Andrew’s best friend and partner in Neighborhood Defense. They were a riot. Protectors and destroyers simultaneously. My fondest memories come from those days when John, Alec and Andrew would dress up in their “war gear” and save the world as they destroyed our yards. Best days ever.

John and Andrew Cub Scout Days.

Time kept moving in our little magical neighborhood and, of course, things changed. Good friends moved away, kids grew up and our little dream world of magical days became a most wonderful memory. A memory, to me, that keeps me alive and brings bittersweet joy to my heart.

My dear friend, Nancy, who was witness and participant in our magical neighborhood wrote this the other day. She had a dream and in it Andrew came to visit. Warms my heart. Heals me. Please take a minute to read: https://nancywileywriter.com/2020/03/13/the-visit/

I have a Facebook page called “The Little Gigantic Things”. Nancy’s visit from Andrew is exactly that: a little gigantic thing. It’s these little gigantic things that touch us to our core. They are the little things that become the fabric of your being and these are the things that heal you.

Dreams are awesome. Also: they suck

“Like a heartbeat…Drives you mad.
In the stillness of remembering what you had.
And what you lost.
And what you had.
And what you lost…”

~ Dreams by Stevie Nicks

Andrew was with me all night long in my dreams. I can’t remember specifics but I’m all confused again this morning. Woke up scared with the same knot in my throat and tears ready to roll. Why did you have to go? I just can’t understand it and I know I never will. How can there be a “God who loves you so much” yet takes not only your mother when you are 3 and you grow up scared and grieving but then later after you have learned to live with that grief and let your guard down a little bit and love again…and I mean actually love again…this “loving God” takes away your first born child too? I’m 52 years old. I do not believe in a “God who loves you so much…”

Here’s the kicker for me. “Oh you’ll get to see your baby in dreams. But you won’t be able to remember them. You’ll just feel like they were with you all night and there are snippets of the dream you’ll remember but you will just wake up and realize that he’s gone. It was just a dream and you can’t even remember the details”. That’s how much God loves you. No. That makes no sense. I want him back and I don’t want it to be in a dream that I can’t remember.

But that’s never going to happen so I take my dream, my memories and my shattered heart and I carry that life with me here on this floating rock in the middle (or end or beginning) of the universe and I smile through my tears after the screaming stops. I smile because for 22 years he was with me. I carried him. I nursed him. I read to him. We sang together. We talked. We held hands. We hugged. We cried. We learned. We welcomed his brother together. We fought. We disappointed each other. We forgave. We loved. We love. We will always have that because we lived. And all of that, plus so much more, is real.

Andrew came to visit me in my dreams last night and I can’t remember what happened but I don’t need to remember the dream to know that I love that kid and his presence in my life for 22 years is a gift beyond price. I thank the Universe for letting me be a part of that magnificent soul’s life here on earth.

What a happy day.

Oh, Andrew. You’re my first baby. (Oh mama. You’re my second mama) He really did say that every time. I wonder.

The Palmetto Bug

I have no idea why I often wake up thinking about the time we took Andrew and Alec to the Keys for the first time. Andrew was 4 and Alec was 2. We drove. From Maryland. This was about 7 years before the divorce but things were already going sour. The place we stayed in was a small little efficiency in a community with a fishing dock. Their dad only wanted to fish. At night. *my eyebrows are raised again*

I, of course, was taking care of the boys while their dad was fishing. I always took care of the boys while their dad was fishing or hunting or working or drunk and passed out. I was a single parent who happened to be married. Whatever. I figured it out.

The boys finally fell asleep and I’m just sitting there thinking about stuff when the largest “palmetto bug” *nice way to say cockroach* walked up the wall behind our bed. I’ll never forget thinking “what the actual fuck do I do now? and why do I have to do this shit alone yet again when I technically have a husband”. That was a regular thought in my life. Of course, I took care of it and fell asleep in the bed my boys were sharing.

Andrew and Alec loved that trip to the Keys. They had a blast and it was the beginning of our yearly Florida trips which eventually became “our future home”.

I am not sure what the palmetto bug has to do with anything. I just always remember that night and I remember my frustration was second to my excitement at how my boys soaked up their Florida surroundings. The anoles, the coral, shells, water, fish…

Andrew grew up and went off to college to study Biology and I truly believe it all stemmed from that first trip to the Keys. I miss his sense of wonder.